Introducing our ‘In Conversation’ series with AERA Co-Founder and CEO, Tina Bhojwani. We’re speaking with the movers and makers working to pave a path and shift the effects of climate change.
This month, we invited Jennifer Alfano, founder of lifestyle journal The Flair Index and sustainable jewelry line Jennifer Alfano Jewerly, to talk to us about her career as a fashion writer and what it means to invest in a sustainable future.
You’ve been writing and working in fashion for the past 20 years - tell us more about your background and your work. As an editor, what do you write most about, is there any area you especially love? Have you explored stories about sustainable fashion?
I started at Vogue back in the 90s and then worked at Harper's Bazaar three times, once under Liz Tilberis and twice under Glenda Bailey. I was both a fashion writer and then the fashion features director. What I loved most was discovering new talent and people's stories and sharing them with our reader--I was the first in the US to write about Alexander McQueen and went to his first show, and had the privilege of witnessing first-hand some very memorable moments in fashion. It was a very creative time. Sustainable fashion wasn't really a concept yet.
Tell us about The Flair Index - when, how, why did you launch? What are the core beliefs of TFI - what do you hope your audience will gain? Do you find community there - do you stay connected with your readers, how?
I launched TFI in 2016 as a way to continue sharing stories, this time focused solely (except for two interviews) on women entrepreneurs in the luxury lifestyle space, along with thoughts on fashion from my editor's mindset. As the site has grown and fashion has evolved, I try to focus on an ethos of fewer, better things and brands that align with that idea. With social media, we are constantly bombarded with newness and it can be overwhelming. I try to winnow out the extraneous to give my audience a succinct point of view. Often, it's a conversation and we learn and grow from each other. I truly enjoy that dialogue.
You recently started a sustainable jewelry line. What’s sustainable about it? When sourcing responsible materials, what was your process like? Did you have a team to work with, were you doing your own research? Do you look for certifications?
There are a couple of areas where I think we are sustainable. First, my gold is ethically sourced and the source is certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council in the UK. My diamonds are also certified conflict free. My pieces are hand-crafted locally by artisans in New York City, and I keep very limited stock—most pieces are made to order which allows us to tailor our designs specifically to each customer and to eliminate waste.
Greenwashing (when businesses claim sustainable practices to the public, but provide no proof or follow-through) is another area where the sustainable conversation falters. Have you ever seen this firsthand? How would you combat it?
I am sure greenwashing happens, and honestly I do not know how to combat it. But this is how I think about it: First, buying anything new isn't really sustainable in the first place. And I could easily nitpick most brands and find a reason why something they are doing doesn't seem sustainable. But I like what I read recently in FT [Financial Times] that editor Jo Ellison wrote about sustainability. She heard someone talk about picking your lane, instead of trying to reach 100% perfection. Because I don't even know if you can. I think we're all in this together, and we should lift each other up and encourage accountability instead of pointing fingers.
On an individual level, we live at such a time of immediacy, of instant gratification, that it feels easier said than done to not be wasteful and to use our resources as best as possible. Do you have any tactics that you practice in your personal life? What would you say to someone who’s curious, or looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Where to start?
Stick to what you love and wait for it. Don't get side tracked. I really admire the designer Rick Owens — his aesthetic isn't mine, but he is very thoughtful and I have one of his quotes on my computer desktop: "Most of the things that I get are things I have wanted for a long, long time. I am not an impulsive buyer and I don't like clutter. I don't like filling my world with impulsive things. It has to be a serious commitment." It's the idea behind my jewelry, my hope is that these are forever pieces that become integral to the wearer's personal style. Not that each thing you bring into your life needs to be the "be all, end all" but I think most of us know instinctively when we're just buying something and when we're bringing something into our lives. It's different.